Obamas Make Symbolic Visit to Future Home: White House
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Barack Obama visited the White House yesterday for a long and cordial meeting with the man he will succeed, setting aside two years of withering criticism of President Bush's record to discuss the economy and tour the presidential living quarters.
As hundreds of well-wishers crowded the wrought-iron fence outside, the president-elect and his wife, Michelle, joined Bush and first lady Laura Bush for a traditional visit that was short on substance but long on symbolism. The women hugged, the men shook hands and all four posed for photographers.
Meeting without aides in the Oval Office, Bush and Obama talked primarily about the economy, as Obama pressed his case for rapid passage of a new economic stimulus package and help for the automobile industry, aides said. Then the pair took a stroll through the residence before returning to the West Wing. Their wives embarked on their own tour of the building that will soon be home to the Obamas and their daughters, Malia, 10, and Sasha, 7.
The meeting, while largely ceremonial, highlighted the rift in economic policy between the two men. Obama has pledged to make enactment of a stimulus package his first action as president if Bush balks during his last few weeks in office. Meanwhile, despite pleas from the auto industry and others, Bush aides have linked support for a broader stimulus bill to Democratic backing of free-trade agreements Bush backs.
Their discussion came after two years of sharp, if indirect, skirmishing between Bush and his Democratic successor, whose candidacy was built as a rebuke to the Republican administration. Obama condemned Bush's "failed policies" and said John McCain, the GOP nominee, would represent "another four years" of the unpopular commander in chief. Bush once suggested that Obama was naive on Iraq and said at another point: "He's got a long way to go to be president."
But the two couples were all smiles yesterday, with no evidence of tension. Stephanie Cutter, an Obama spokeswoman, said that the Obamas were "warmly welcomed" and that the Oval Office meeting was "productive and friendly."
"They had a broad discussion about the importance of working together throughout the transition of government in light of the nation's many critical economic and security challenges," she said. "President-elect Obama thanked President Bush for his commitment to a smooth transition, and for his and first lady Laura Bush's gracious hospitality in welcoming the Obamas to the White House."
Bush similarly described the meeting as "good, constructive, relaxed and friendly," according to a summary by Dana Perino, the White House press secretary. The two discussed world and domestic affairs, and Bush showed Obama the presidential office, the Lincoln Bedroom and the bedrooms for the Obamas' daughters, she added.
"The president enjoyed his visit with the president-elect, and he again pledged a smooth transition to the next administration," Perino said.
Obama flew from Chicago in a chartered Boeing Super 80. The president-elect sat in a regular first-class seat for the one-hour and 17-minute trip, walking back to coach briefly to talk to aides.
The couple traveled to the White House in a presidential-style limousine -- another switch from the sport-utility vehicles that were common during the campaign. Michelle Obama also spent time yesterday scouting out schools for the couple's daughters, according to sources familiar with her plans.
Obama's return to Chicago produced some moments of minor drama for accompanying journalists. First, the president-elect went into a private 40-minute meeting at Reagan National Airport with people unknown to them. Then, after boarding his plane, reporters were able to overhear his conversation as he talked on a cellphone.